Plan B, Ill Manors and the Camden Ripper

THERE’S high critical praise everywhere you look for Plan B this week, all for his new song/rap/video in which he tackles last summer’s riots. The Guardian discusses whether Ill Manors is the best protest song ever. Ever? The Evening Standard says tonight it could win Eurovision. And gosh – even a Labour MP, Jamie Reed, likes it.

It is good. He says the right things about how the poor have been demonised, how the word ‘chav’ can be a weapon and the video particularly captures the untreated rage in parts of London ahead of last summer’s disturbances.

But, you know, I’m still trying to decipher the hidden social comment in one of Plan B’s older songs. Before Ill Manors. Before the soul stuff he did in a three piece suit. The cider ad. Before all of that.

Suzanne is a rap (with a little Leonard Cohen sample) about a prostitute being murdered in Camden Town by a man who then chops up her body and dumps her ‘bits and bobs’ near the Lock. It ends by asking us to keep an eye out for body parts floating up the canal. Names aren’t the same – but this came out in the wake of the crimes of Anthony Hardy, the Camden Ripper killer who murdered three prostitutes in his council flat in Camden Town. One of the victims was so badly mutilated she had to be identified by her breast implants. It was the most churning news story this area of London has lived through in the last ten years. I haven’t reported on anything like it since. [If you want to read about the tragedy of the case, here’s one of my essays]

Now, I know his is a challenging act (and that I’m not as young as I used to be) but given Plan B’s thoughtful style and some of the fine work he did after making this record, I keep waiting when I listen back to it to hear the message, the deeper point, the social comment in Suzanne. What I hear is lyrics like ‘Chop chop chop’ and then the buzzing of a machine saw and a woman screaming. You can read and listen for yourself:

Maybe I wrote too much on the Camden Ripper story, from the day the bodies were found to the inquiries into these horrors, and that the anesthetic of artistic licence doesn’t insulate me when listening to Suzanne. Others clearly saw the merit in it – YouTube is awash with media studies videos for the song in which boys pretend to be serial killers and girls pretend to be frightened prostitutes, recreating in the process one of NW1’s darkest hours. Now call me old-fashioned…

Below, some of the student video versions of ‘Suzanne’